Inviting the rain


June 27, 2011

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    Iswanto JA/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Bright orange water tanks, provided by Mercy Corps through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, located behind the temporary shelters of a displacement camp in Indonesia's Mentawai Islands. Photo: Iswanto JA/Mercy Corps

In their old villages — before the earthquake and tsunami hit Indonesia's Mentawai Islands last year — people never had trouble getting fresh water. Their homes were always located close to rivers, because they knew that water is of the utmost importance.

Without shade trees, the displacement camps for tsunami survivors in Rua Monga and Bulak Monga are hot and barren. People prefer to get out of their temporary shelter and spend as much time in their farm fields as possible.

Life post-tsunami has been overwhelming for everyone affected. People in Rua Monga and Bulak Monga moved to temporary shelters built by Indonesia's National Disaster — without a reliable water source or lighting, plus the loss of their normal way of life, living conditions have been very difficult.

Initially, after the tsunami, humanitarian agencies provided affected families with jerry cans and, for months you could see in the corner of each temporary shelter a few jerry cans lined up to collect rainwater. However, this water storage capacity is inadequate, and residents have to travel a long distance to find enough water to wash clothes, bathe and cook.

One resident from Rua Monga village, 37-year-old Liberti, says “It is difficult to get water in relocation camps for everyday purposes. Residents must go to the river that is at least one-third of a kilometer from the relocation camp. If father and mother go to their agricultural plot, the children take turns getting the water from the river — it is a very heavy job."

Residents' water worries have now been addressed by a Mercy Corps grant — through funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — of 80 water tanks to Rua Monga and Bulak Monga villages. Each family received a water tank and accessories such as guttering, pipes and taps that they installed in their houses based on instructions from Mercy Corps staff.

They no longer have to spend a large portion of their days walking and hauling water from the river.

"The burden of searching for clean water has now decreased with the arrival of water tanks from Mercy Corps," explained a father of four children. "Once the water tank is full from rain water harvesting, it can be used for drinking water (once boiled) and washing clothes for a week."

“It’s lucky”, added Liberti, “now that it is the rainy season, for every week there are usually around three days of rain. So my family and I can use the water in the tank for all purposes ranging from cooking, washing clothes, dishes and bathing.

"If the water is used just for drinking and cooking, one water tank can be used for a month! Since receiving water tanks, residents here are always wishing for the rain to fall so that our water tanks are full!" the father of four said with a laugh.

And, from a health perspective, these water tanks couldn't have arrived soon enough. Across from Bulak Monga village there is a yellowish green swamp that residents used to wash clothes and bathe. For 24-year-old Sinta Dewi, carrying her toddler son and a basin of dirty clothes to the river was too far, and so she often took the child and washed her family´s clothes in the swamp.

"Sometimes we washed in the swamp. It's a bit shabby, but we had to because I cannot carry the boy and bring the clothes all the way to the river. But mosquitoes are all over, and during the walk the children were often crying, " said Sinta.

According to Sinta, after receiving water tanks from Mercy Corps, a full water tank is sufficient for the needs of all of her family members. "Now I can wash our clothes, dishes and even bathe right here in my shelter. Surak (thank you) for helping us," said Sinta, smiling.